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June 26, 2006

The Sixties: Obstinate denials of reality?

Here's a question: What role did the hallowed 60's play in the run-up to the current (alleged) religious revival?

Timothy_Leary.jpgFrom Luc Sante in his review of a new biography of 60's LSD enthusiast Timothy Leary (Louis Menand's review is more fun):

The book provides a crash course in several aspects of 60's culture: its often gaseous rhetoric, its reliance on mahatmas and soothsayers, its endless bail-fund benefits and sometimes dubious appeals to conscience, its thriving population of informers, its contribution to the well-being of lawyers, its candyland expectations and obstinate denials of reality, its fatal avoidance of critical thinking, its squalid death by its own hand.

This seems rather harsh (on the 60's, not necessarily Leary), no? Sante does, however, acknowledge something of another side:

That still leaves many meritorious elements largely outside Leary's sphere: civil rights, the antiwar movement, music and art, the impulse toward communitarianism, to name a few.

But then, in the last sentence of his review, Sante returns, metaphors blazing, to the attack:

In part because of Leary, however, ideals and delusions were encouraged to interbreed, their living progeny being avid consumerism and toothless dissent.

My own take: Certainly, "delusions" were in good supply among those who danced "beneath diamond skies" back in those starry-eyed days. Some forms of reality were, in fact, denied. Various gods, whom it had taken centuries to evict, were invited back in. But in having the wit and exuberance to step, for a moment at least, outside of societal expectations and beyond a rather limited perspective on what qualified as "real," much critical thinking -- on politics, culture and religion -- was done. The Cosmic All and its upholders may have been invoked; but Mommy's and Daddy's God did not fare that well. And not all of that thinking, I believe, has been undone.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at June 26, 2006 11:54 PM


I met Leary once and went to one of his "debates" once and I did not find him to be very impressive either personality wise or intellectually. He was a media created icon and had almost nothing to do with what was actually going on in the 60s and 70s.

The way we Baby Boomers have run away from our pasts is depressing but shows how a little awareness expansion is a scary thing to most.
Turn on, take over, and give peace a chance. Now all the music we made important is musak for TV commercials. The world waits for no one. Keep on Truckin.

Posted by: Jay Saul at June 28, 2006 6:48 PM

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